Staff at Chiswick House and Gardens Trust honoured three gardening enthusiasts for rescuing its rare camellia collection.

A plaque was unveiled to recognise the hard work of the trio who ‘adopted’ the blooms from Hounslow Council in 1994, which had been dying from an infestation.

Meanwhile, the finishing touches were being made in the conservatory ahead of the annual Camellia Show opening on Thursday (February 11) in Chiswick.

Members of the International Camellia Society, Herb Short, Marigold Assinder and Jane Callander worked tirelessly for years, tending to the plants to ensure their survival, from bringing stepladders on the tube, cleaning individual leaves to remove sooty mould, pruning and spraying weekly until they were restored back to health.

Mr Short and his wife Pat were presented with the Middlemist’s Red plant - one of only two in the world known to exist - as a thank you for their work, from Geraldine King, the Estate manager, on Wednesday (February 10).

Mr Short said “It is a bitter sweet occasion as Jane, Marigold and I worked as a team, and they cannot be here to receive their share of the credit.

“When we first saw the camellias we recognised from the size of their trunks that they were very old and in very bad shape.

“People had walked on by not realising how old and rare they were.

“We came every week from freezing mid winter through to the summer to spray and prune them and left covered in black with our feet feeling like blocks of ice!

“And we said to ourselves “Who will do this when we cannot do it anymore?” Fortunately, English Heritage stepped in, and Fiona Crumley took over as head gardener and they continued to bring them back to life.”

For a second year running, the blooms among the oldest collection of plants and flowers under glass in the western world, which have been housed in the 300ft glasshouse since it was restored in 2010, will be free for the public to view.

Clare O’Brien, director of the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, said: “We owe Herb, Jane and Marigold a huge debt for having the vision, expertise, tenacity and passion to bring back to life this national treasure for future generations to enjoy.”

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Last year, the shop sold 250 plants propagated from 16 heritage varieties in the rare Chiswick House Camellia collection.

This year gardeners will have another chance to buy from Chiswick House’s heritage varieties and some specially selected spring flowers.

For more information visit Chiswick House and Gardens.

* The free Chiswick House Camellia Show 2016 at Chiswick House will run from February 11 to March 13 open from 10am to 4pm (closed Mondays).